”A customer will buy or use a specific product not just because of what it does, but also because of how it makes him feel.” (Kolko, 2014, p.118)
I have never met a person who NEEDS a NEW pair of pants. Sure one might wear out all their pants and necessitate the acquisition of a functional pair but in a world brimming with unwanted and even unworn pants is it critical that they be new? If you ran out of pants tomorrow your friends would likely have plenty to offer. If that’s not the case there are plenty of vintage and thrift stores who can help out. So why do we act like buying new clothing is a right and not a privilege? But just as we explore, fashion doesn’t necessarily have to be “slow” to be ethical or intentional.
But whether we opt for new or used it would be ideal to buy something that is going to last. In the paper Choreographing Obsolescence – Ecodesign Woolley examines how our pleasure and dissatisfaction with products lead to them being prematurely disposed of. He argues that designers tend to focus mostly on what will cause the most on “instant appeal” as a way to entice shoppers to buy the problem therein being that “instant appeal” doesn’t always lead to “long term pleasure” over time. The rapid consumption of virgin materials and a linear production paradigm is taking a heavy toll on the planet. Woolley insists that we must design differently, prolonging the lifespan of our items by extending our satisfaction over time (Woolley, 2003).
In my 2013 TEDx talk, The Luxury to Buy Better (Ostler, 2013), I argued that the right thing to do for the environment is to figure out exactly what you want, right down to the last detail, the thing that is better than every other thing, the perfect thing, the ultimate thing. Then find a way, no matter how hard or expensive, to get that perfect thing. Take your time, search for it, find out if anyone can make it just right, just for you. Then once you get it stop searching. Don’t find anything else to replace it. Now is time to care for and maintain your thing. In this way I am actually glorifying consumer culture as a means to a more sustainable future, but if only we stop bringing new things into our life and focus on what we have. Marie Kondo asks us to declutter our lives by identifying what brings us joy, or more importantly what does not, and getting rid of it. (Kondo, 2014) What if we could figure this out before we bought anything at all?
De Castro explains the relationship she has with all her clothing regardless of price tag in her book Loved Clothes Last, “There is also a misconception that cheap fashion is so badly made that id doesn’t warrant saving; that there is no point in investing time and money to repair something that costs so little and is made so poorly. I question this. As someone who buys for love and not on impulse, it is irrelevant to me the amount of money I spend, when it comes to my emotional relationship with the piece I bought: everything I buy is worth keeping”( 2022, p.39). This not only mirrors my experience mending my friends very expensive linen pants that fell apart fast but also the fast fashion clothing I bought for my longevity test but taking this a step further she expresses that when we have take the time to consider all the clothing we buy and buy it slowly (similarly to the concept of making slowly) we can develop emotional bonds that keep clothing lasting longer regardless of the source.
It’s time to change our relationship with the accumulation of objects. In Eternally Yours: Visions on Product Endurance Maria Koskijoki speculates on the consumer being something of an artist curating their purchases as if they were a collector, revereing every item they purchase with so much attention and admiration that it would come to embody their persona (1997). . Through the recounting of a man named Pentti Hauhiala who is obsessed with Disney and collecting related objects. He expresses deep love for these objects. “Consumption is, after all, an enriching experience.” (Koskijoki, 1997, p.143) She pitches that if we all had more emphasis on the experience of buying, not less, we would evidently fall in love with our possessions, care for them longer and thus they would last. An appeal that might be considered a bit extreme but one I tend to agree with.
And the practice of minimalism asks us to only have what we need. In many ways any of the preceding practices could be considered a consumerist minimalism. In each of these ways we ask the consumer to fully embrace their role in consumption to give a higher status to the things we love and have. Perhaps what we truly need, in order to buy and waste less is to become the most discerning shopper. Maybe we haven’t practiced the art of shopping enough?
Though it is clear to me something needs to change in our habits of acquiring new clothing and other textiles I am not convinced that buying less out of shame or admonishment will have the same impact as transitioning to curating our purchases through a process I am calling Slow-Shopping. Much like the concept of Slow Fashion we can begin to make better purchases, more emotionally connected purchases which will ultimately lead to us keeping our clothing longer if we honor the art of shopping curating our decisions. Encouraging the materialism of shopping sounds like a strange way to think sustainably but in my experience watching my customers’ consumption habits it actually makes a lot of sense.
Kolko, J. (2014). Well-designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love. Harvard Business Review Press.
Woolley, M. (2003, June). Choreographing obsolescence – ecodesign: the pleasure/dissatisfaction cycle (B. Hanington, Ed.). DPPI ’03: Proceedings of the 2003 international conference on Designing pleasurable products and interfaces, 77-81. 10.1145/782896.782916
Ostler, S. (2013). The Luxury to Buy Better [TEDx Talk 2013]. TED. https://youtu.be/N_KSXOqqnz4
Kondo, M. (2014). The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (C. Hirano, Trans.). Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed.
De Castro, O. (2022). Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act. Penguin UK.
Hinte, E. v. (1997). Eternally Yours: Visions on Product Endurance. 010 Publishers.